Driven Ford usually comes up 'old school' good on diamondFord, Dennen, Wedge lead 60s set in popular summer recreational league
At age 67, Tom Ford of Hope is, simply by his chronological years, far from a spring chicken.
But put him on a softball field with a collection of teammates and friends, and he looks far from the oldest guy on the diamond, let alone in the entire, decades-old Camden Adult Coed Softball League.
Which he is.
Though he does not play like an average 67-year-old. Ford is a former three-sport athlete and 1964 graduate of Winchester High School in Massachusetts, with baseball being one of his signature sports.
Ford, a crafty left-handed pitcher and switch-hitting batter in the coed league, moved to the Midcoast 34 years ago and has played in many softball leagues in the area over the years, from modified fast pitch to slow pitch coed.
And while in the winter months he can often be found playing pickup basketball games at the Rockland Recreation Center, in the summer, he is in the center of the diamond, now in his third year pitching for French & Brawn (he has pitched for other teams over the years in the league).
And for Ford, who said what keeps him coming back “comes down to two things,” it is as fun as it has ever been.
“[First] it's the camaraderie with a group of people who enjoy playing a sport,” he said. “It's something I've enjoyed since I was nine years old, the sport itself.”
“And as I've gotten older I certainly feel that being physically active, having a good diet and a positive outlook on life and being intellectually and physically fit is very important to the long term and a happy life.”
For Ford, and others active in the league over age 60, the camaraderie is a common theme that keeps them coming back.
“I think it's the ballplayers on the team,” said 61-year-old Anne Dennen, who plays for Blue Sky Cantina and started in the league in 1991. “I've played for three different teams, four including Blue Sky [Cantina] because we changed the name [last year from Maine Cat]. But a lot of us have been together for a long time.”
Dennen, who said getting out and seeing people and to “try not to get injured,” are among her top priorities when playing softball, had nothing but praise for Ford's play and approach to the game.
“He plays extremely well,” she said of Ford. “He always has. He and our pitcher [58-year-old] Billy [William Barrus] are probably the top pitchers in the league and they have been for a long time. Except for 'Knuckles' Dwight Mahoney. He was really good.”
“I love the game, the competition, the exercise and the excitement, and will continue to play as long as I am able,” said 64-year-old Elizabeth “Betsy” Wedge, who plays for the Knox County Benchwarmers, the league runners-up last year and finalist this season. “We have been playing together for so long now that it seems like a second family.”
Wedge said she has found that “what I may lack in the physical strength and agility of the younger players, the years of experience [that I have] make a good contribution to the team.”
She also said while she does not know Ford very well, “he seems to be enjoying himself no matter how things are going [and is] cheerful and upbeat.”
Of course, some ribbing of their ages — in a league dominated by younger players — comes with the territory.
“We do a lot of senior jokes and things,” said Dennen prior to her team's playoff game Aug. 13 with Ford's French & Brawn squad. “We'll probably do some tonight.”
After the men's softball league Ford played in disbanded years ago, he did not immediately join the Camden Adult Coed Softball League, but eventually caught on with Gilbert's Pub and had “a good run” with that team, winning at least one title before joining French & Brawn.
While Ford pitches, he also played short field in his younger years, though he now prefers his spot in the middle of the infield.
“I think as you get older, actually pitching and the quick reactions, it's almost easier than playing an outfield position or an infield position,” he said.
“Tom Ford is great,” said teammate Tara Murray, who at 41 years old is 26 years Ford's junior. “We all just think he's fabulous. He's one of our most consistent hitters, he can bat righty or lefty [and] he's been in this league a long time. He knows where all the players hit and he'll say 'back up' or 'play four [outfielders] deep].' He gives great instruction.”
Murray said that "everyone has that vision of what that age looks like and he's not that vision."
“He's so friendly and so supportive of everybody," she said. "He takes it seriously, but in a positive way.”
One of the more rewarding things for Ford is playing against his son, Dan, a 2006 Camden Hills Regional High School graduate, who plays for Blue Sky Cantina.
“That's been really cool,” he said. “And I guess as I look at Dan, who played all the high school sports, what I'm most proud of is he's still enjoying sports for what it should be. Just going out and having fun and enjoying the camaraderie of your teammates. That's something that is sometimes lost on [younger and former] high school athletes that get so fixated with competitiveness and winning.”
Dan said playing in the league with his dad is “pretty fun,” joking that his father “might be a good fit for any senior citizens league.”
“We have a lot of fun in that league,” said Dan. “It's fun playing against him. He definitely knows how to pitch.”
As far as will Ford still be playing when he hits age 70?
“It's year to year,” Ford said. “If I feel positive and feel I can make a contribution and feel that I can compete with people quite a bit younger I'll probably keep on doing it.”
Associate Sports Director
594-4401, ext. 116
Mark has been covering local sports throughout Knox, Waldo and part of Lincoln county since 2007. He has a bachelor's degree in Mass Communication from the University of Maine and is also a 2000 graduate of Rockland District High School.
Mark is an avid fan of the Boston Red Sox, fantasy sports, the AMC drama "Breaking Bad" and iced coffee.
He resides in Thomaston with his wife Jenn and sons Beckett and Austin.
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